As I was growing up, my answer would have been simple: not much. As I get older, though, I’m discovering that I’m more like them than I realized in my more formative years.
I always knew that my family was an industrious lot. One of my great-grandfathers was a blacksmith who even made his own tools. His sons and grandsons grew up to be independent, skilled handymen. No household task was beyond them. They replaced water heaters, installed plumbing, wired walls and turned trees into boards. My own father even built a complete house from scratch.
A big night for my paternal grandfather and grandmother consisted of sanding down some baseboards or painting a ceiling before heading off to a friend’s house where they would laugh and sing, maybe even cut a record. On weekends, they’d take a drive in the country, spend a couple of hours picking gooseberries then come home where Grandma Jessie would stem them, bake a pie and make jelly before bedtime.
I know this because I’ve been reading the nearly 30 years of journals that my grandmother kept. In all honesty, I see little of myself in the above. I’m a capable handyman and know my way around a kitchen, but am nowhere near as ambitious or accomplished as my ancestors.
Nevertheless, I was astonished to find some striking similarities when I recently was given access to some of my Dad’s personal records.
For instance, my Dad was a reporter for his high school paper. I don’t recall his ever mentioning that, even as I launched my own journalistic career as a reporter. Then there are the lists. I guess I sort of knew that we were both list-makers, but I didn’t know about the records.
Phonograph records, that is. In the years before he married and before he joined the armed forces, Dad spent a good chunk of every paycheck on phonograph records and added them to a list. Guess who did the exact same thing 25 years later? I don’t recall him ever mentioning that, either.
Bottom line: The influences of our ancestors are sometimes more subtle than we realize.
Photo: Jessie Lehmer with her hard-working kids - Calvin, Phyllis, Agnes and Jack, (Courtesy of Walter B. Lehmer)